Life At Ten: Did Stewards Ignore ESPN Interview?
By Ray Paulick
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission is nearing completion of an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Life At Ten, who was eased as the 7-2 second betting choice in Friday's $2-million Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic just minutes after her jockey, John Velazquez, said during a live horseback interview with ESPN that she was not warming up normally.
Life At Ten was not drug tested after the race, though blood was drawn for TCO2 testing and could be used for testing purposes. KHRC spokesman Dick Brown said trainer Todd Pletcher disclosed that the morning after the race Life At Ten's temperature “was well above normal” and that a subsequent blood test showed an “elevated white blood cell count.” According to Pletcher, Life At Ten's temperature was normal before the Ladies' Classic. Pletcher previously speculated Life At Ten may have had a reaction to her Lasix shot or tied-up (cramped) prior to the race.
The KHRC spokesman said chief steward John Veitch, a former trainer, has interviewed Pletcher, track veterinarian Dr. Bryce Peckham, and the track's starter and outrider. He has yet to interview jockey Velazquez, who according to the KHRC did not bring the filly's condition to the attention of the three veterinarians positioned near the starting gate. Pletcher was quoted immediately after the racing as saying Velazquez did say something to the vets about Life At Ten.
“I told (Velazquez) when we left the paddock that I was concerned about the way she saddled. She was abnormally quiet; almost sedated-like. I told him to make sure and warm her up well. … That's a tough position for Johnny to be in. He asked the vets to look at her. It's unfortunate because of all the horses we brought over here today none were doing better than her. At the last minute, something went wrong.”
Brown also confirmed that ESPN producer Amy Zimmerman called the stewards prior to the start of the race and alerted them to the Velazquez interview. “When the stewards watched the feed, the interview with Velasquez was ending,” Brown said. “Velasquez was only heard by the stewards to say that she wasn't warming up well. No mention was made by ESPN to the stewards of any possible issues with the horse.”
UPDATED 7:00 p.m. … According to Amy Zimmerman — who has been involved with racing telecasts for 25 years, has worked on 13 Eclipse Award-winning broadcasts, and is executive producer of HRTV — the KHRC stewards said “they were watching the show” when she called to alert them about the first of two horseback interviews ESPN did with Velazquez prior to the Ladies' Classic. Her statement would seem to contradict what Brown told the Paulick Report.
Pletcher, who apparently saw the interview while in the horsemen's lounge in the Churchill Downs tunnel, became concerned and went trackside. He told ESPN reporter Jay Privman Life At Ten was very quiet in the paddock and that he asked Velazquez to warm her up well.
Jeanine Edwards, also reporting for ESPN, asked Dr. Larry Bramlage, a member of the “on-call” veterinary team from the American Association of Equine Practitioners, about Life At Ten and Velazquez's comments, and he responded that nobody had said anything to the veterinarians stationed at the starting gate.
About three minutes after the first Velazquez interview, ESPN then went back to him a second time. “I wanted Jerry (Bailey) to ask him how she is approaching the gate,” Zimmerman said. “His response was that she had not warmed up out of (whatever was bothering her).”
Shortly after that second interview, Life At Ten was led into the starting gate.
“I couldn't believe what I was watching,” Zimmerman said. “It was a huge communications breakdown.”
There was no consideration given to scratch Life at Ten, Brown said, as there was “no dialogue with the track veterinarians or the stewards from the outrider, Velasquez or Pletcher indicating a problem with the horse that would have led to her possibly being scratched.”
The three veterinarians at the starting gate were: Dr. Bryce Peckham of the KHRC; Dr. Debbie Lamparter of the New Jersey Racing Commission, who is also the chair of the Breeders' Cup Veterinarian Panel; and Dr. Robin White, who has been on Breeders' Cup Panel 10 years and is with the British Horse Racing Authority. Eight other regulatory veterinarians were on the track.
Life At Ten broke last, was not persevered with by Velazquez, quickly lost contact with the field, and was eased before reaching the stretch. More than $7 million was wagered on the Ladies' Classic in win-place-show, exacta, trifecta and superfecta bets. That amount does not include multi-race wagers (i.e., Pick 3, PIck 4, Pick 6).
UPDATED: Late Monday afternoon, the KHRC released the following statement:
LEXINGTON, Ky. – (Nov. 8, 2010) – The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) issued the following statement regarding the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic race on Nov. 5, 2010.
“The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission is continuing its inquiry into the incident at the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic Friday Nov. 5, 2010, involving Life at Ten.
From the time Life at Ten was brought to the paddock, saddled, led to the track for the post parade, warmed up and loaded into the starting gate, neither trainer Todd Pletcher nor jockey Johnny Velasquez voiced any concerns they may have had regarding Life at Ten to any racing officials, veterinarians or the outriders prior to the running of the Ladies Classic.
Should a trainer or jockey have concerns about whether a horse is fit to race, they know the proper protocol is to notify a KHRC veterinarian who will talk to the jockey and observe the horse and then make a recommendation to the Stewards regarding any scratch.
After the race, Chief State Racing Steward John Veitch interviewed Mr. Pletcher as well as the head outrider Greg Blasi and KHRC chief veterinarian Dr. Bryce Peckham. An interview with Mr. Velasquez is pending.
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission takes seriously the safety of horses and jockeys – before, during and after each race. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission firmly believes its veterinarians and racing stewards acted properly in all instances regarding this race.”